Monday, October 15, 2018

Women in costume in love - with music, of course

Shakespeare in Love could be subtitled Shall I compare thee to a saucy rom-com, witty satire, or bardic farce? but whichever you choose it's a total delight. Based on the movie screenplay by Tom Stoppard & Marc Norman, this Lee Hall adaptation for stage at Theatre Royal Bath has a massive cast of superlative actors in terrific costumes in a high-energy romp which is also crammed with allusions to Shakespeare's plays, his life & times, and even to later legends (did Marlow really write all the best lines?) - but you don't need to pick up on any of the references to thoroughly enjoy the show. Designer Max Jones used the circular stage to terrific effect with a set comprising basically no more than a balcony to evoke Romeo's classic love scene, which somehow created pubs, castles, theatres, and even dockland - and the fights were fantastic. Pierro Niel-Mee as Will and Imogen Daines as Viola-aka-Juliet made a lovely couple, Edmund Kingsley was a marvellous Marlow and Geraldine Alexander's imperious Queen added a wicked touch of BlackAdder ("Tragedy is all very well but we very much like a dog") - and every role was well played under Philip Breen's well-paced direction. Highly recommended, on till 13 October then touring the UK ~  images Pete le May
It's easy to forget these days that a mere hundred years ago, the women who campaigned for voting rights were seen by most of the rest of the English population rather like the IRA were in the 70s: violent extremists causing havoc for no justifiable cause. ‘What we’re dealing with here is a lunatic fringe of frigid women’ declares one of the posse of Typical Men at the start of Her Naked Skin at Salisbury Playhouse, Rebecca Lenkiewicz's play set in - and largely about - the early days of the Suffragette Movement. Since their early days of polite propaganda, women had become tired of being ignored & disdained and had embarked on a more violent policy, attacking property & assaulting policemen, starting fires & storming parliament... and then there was the Derby death leap, a decisive moment in the history of women's suffrage which provides the opening of the play.
Lesbianism was the other frequent explanation for their behaviour, as women found genuine camaraderie and intimacy across social classes: that too is an aspect explored in this drama, but the most unforgettable scenes for me were the reconstructions of the treatment of imprisoned women. In one shocking scene we see what force-feeding actually involved, the horrifying brutality paradoxically presented in a strangely beautiful tableaux as a pyramid of men grip the girl so that one nurse, standing aloft like an angel, can pour egg-mix down the long tube forced through her nose all the way to her stomach. Direction is by Gareth Machin, with a strong team of professionals playing the key roles and excellent support from community actors as their protesting supporters.  The number of short scenes in different locations created difficulties in maintaining connection with the action which were not entirely solved by a swiftly revolving stage and quick-drop sets, but this excellent production is really worth seeing. Abigail Cruttenden takes the central role of Celia, but watch out too for naive Eve (Lorna Fitzgerald) defiant Florence (Jane How) and understandably frustrated William (Robert Hands) Showing till 20 October.
On to music now:  Friday night's treat was local blues band Nasty Habits playing in the City Arms in Wells as storm Callum lashed. It's a pleasant pub and their set had a great response, though last time I was in Wells was for the anniversary screening of Hot Fuzz and it was difficult not to feel the regulars were all part of the NWA plotting for the greater good in the smokers' garden outside...

Saturday saw the massively-anticipated return of the Back Wood Redeemers to Frome's Cornerhouse music pub for an evening of  flamboyant theatricality and much dancing. This awedome 8-piece band always dresses in unique style for their gigs, combining superb musical skills with high energy impact and a big splash of dark humour. Unmissable.
On Sunday the tempo at the pub changes for the early evening jazz session: Keith Harrison-Broninski trio performed with Rosanna Schura and Nathan Mansfield - a lovely melodic round-off to the week. Sunday should have also featured a trip to Cranmore Tower for our 'Poetry Walk' on the theme of autumn, organised by John Payne and Martin Bax, but Storm Callum kicked that one off the schedule by lashing up a mudbath on the paths we planned to use. So here instead is a picture from a walk on Saturday around Stourhead, which for some strange reason maintained serene sunshine the entire afternoon.

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